Used car shopping can be extremely tricky, and there is always a chance you could be buying an old junker that isn't even worth the price of gas. Luckily, we are here to help you determine which pre-owned cars are good and which are lemons.

Don't Get Stuck Driving a Lemon Home

Lemons are great in a drink, but not so great to drive. Unfortunately, with the natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy that hit the U.S. this year along with the ever-rising used car prices, these damaged vehicles have made their way onto dealer lots and private party sellers' lawns. Because of the popularity of these cars it's important to keep your eyes out for any too-good-to-be-true deals, because as the saying goes – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Most cars sold (by a dealership or private party) are done so just to make a buck, and without the buyers best interest in mind. This is why at Auto Credit Express we only work with dealerships that can guarantee their used vehicles are in good condition. Most of the cars sold even come with an extended warranty to back up the fact that they are not lemons. If you're planning on going car shopping any time soon we can help you avoid buying a lemon with these tips.

Check the Title History of the Car

If you have found a car that you're interested in you should always check that the title is clean. You can do this by getting the vehicle identification number (VIN) and running it through CarFax. The report you receive will tell you where the vehicle was previously titled how it was registered, in other words if the car was a:

  • Personal vehicle
  • Taxi
  • Rental car
  • Fleet vehicle

A CarFax report will also tell you if the vehicle has ever had a salvaged or flood-damaged stamp on it or if the vehicle ever had a recall on it. A salvaged title means that the insurance company from the previous owner deemed the vehicle totaled and no longer drivable, and a flood-damaged stamp is self-explanatory. Be sure to see the actual title of the vehicle and compare the VIN number on the vehicle to the one listed on the title, and make sure there are no lien-holders listed on the title as well.

Flood-Damaged Vehicles

If you live in a state that has recently suffered major flooding or in a state where these cars could be easily transferred, keep your eyes peeled. Cars that come from flood-damaged states are likely to have a washed title; meaning that the original owner's insurance company deemed the car 'flood-damaged' and it was sold at auction. The new owner then took it from state to state and got it re-titled in each state and eventually the titled was 'washed' clean, and therefore, no longer is labeled as damaged.

If the title of the car looks clean you should then start looking in and around the car. Missing this step could cause you major damage down the road like:

  • Corrosion
  • Electrical shortages
  • Airbag senor shortages
  • Failed transmission
  • Moldy interior

When looking around the car; if you happen to smell a funky odor, this is a sign that there could be mildew or mold lingering around. Lift up all the carpets and look under all the seats for any signs of silt, waterlines, or mold. Check the trunk and engine compartment for the same issues as well as rusting. If you see any signs of this, leave immediately!

View the Service Records and Get your Own Inspection

All private party sellers should keep all their records of routine car maintenance that was done on the vehicle, as well as any major repairs. Check this paperwork carefully and thoroughly to see if the oil changes were done regularly, tires were rotated, and how new the brakes are. If they don't have this information or won't show it to you, it could mean they didn't take good care of the vehicle at all, and you should then take it to your mechanic.

Have any mechanic that you trust to look over every inch of the car. Some dealerships won't allow you to take the car off their lot to have it inspected, and if this is the case, bring someone that is somewhat familiar with cars to the dealership with you. Your mechanic will be able to tell you whether or not there are any signs of flood damage, or if it has been in an accident and major parts were replaced easier than you will be able to tell. This step should never be avoided as they will be able to inform you if you are going to need to foot a big bill for brake work, transmission repair or other costly things.

Look for Over Spray or Mismatching Pieces

When searching the vehicle, if you happen to see that there is a mist of paint in the wheel wells or on the any part that it shouldn't be, it's a sign that the car was recently painted. This could mean the owner is trying to cover up damage from a car accident or rust that the car experienced due to age or not keeping the car clean. Mismatched panels, doors or hoods are also a sign that something is wrong. Be sure to ask for an explanation as to why this is the way it is, and if they can't provide you with a reason, or at least a good one, you should probably walk away from the deal because it could mean big problems for you in the future.

Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance

We've touched on the subject briefly above, but regular oil changes are key to the life of your vehicle. If the oil is not changed frequently the engine can run poorly and eventually blow up, which is a disaster. While these should be part of the service records they keep, there are other telltale signs of proper oil changes. First, you can check to see if there is a stick on the windshield that says when the next one should be. Second, you can check the oil yourself; if it looks extremely dark or gritty – it's old.

The other main thing that should be done on a regular basis is tire rotation and inflation. Tires that seem to be worn differently or have dents throughout the tread could mean the owner neglected to take care of the tires at all. Check to see if they are all-season tires or winter tires, and what season it is when you're buying the car. If it's summer time and the car still has winter tires on it, then they are likely to be very worn out. The same goes for if it's winter and they have all-season tires. While this will not directly affect how the vehicle itself runs like the oil changes will, it is still a costly repair and should factor into your decision.

Test Drive the Car

This is definitely a no-brainer. Who would buy a vehicle without first seeing that it runs and drives okay? You'd actually be pretty surprised how many people don't think this is an important step in the car buying process. Be sure to drive the car as if it were already yours and take it out in the road conditions that you drive through on a daily basis. This will help you know if the vehicle can handle what you need it to, and be sure to listen for any noises that it should not be making. Have someone go with you so they can jot down any notes and questions you may have and want to ask the seller or dealer.

As We See It

Buying a new vehicle is a big process and it's important to take caution before you sign any dotted line and hand over your money. Don't get stuck with a sour lemon, instead buy a car that is going to last you years, and one you won't have to worry about. Auto Credit Express can help you do that even if you have bad credit with our network of car dealers. They have certified pre-owned cars that won't leave you scratching your head wondering what's wrong with them. Get started today with our online car loan application and you could be driving home in your new car tomorrow!